It wasn't you
We tried honest
Please don't cry
I hear him saying the words, telling me that none of this is my fault, our fault. It wasn't anything we did, or didn't do. I hear him tell us that he and my mum just stopped loving each other.
I know that's a lie for a start. If she didn't still love him then why is she locked in her room, her tears, loud and painful to hear, like an animal wounded and forgotten. My brother sits next to me, his silence matching mine, until the moment it doesn't and his shoulders start to shake and small muffled sounds start to come from his throat.
I can feel his shame as he tries to hold back the tears. He is fifteen, too old to cry, he is a man, not a boy any more, and he is way too proud to beg the man he idolises to stay, so instead he sits by me, his shoulders flush into mine, pressing hard into me as if hoping I won't dissappear along with the family he loves. I clasp his fingers, wrap them in mine, gripping tight, willing him to understand that I am not leaving, that he will always have me.
I see the guilt in my fathers eyes, the shame. I know that there is more to this story, to his words. There are secrets hiding just beneath the surface, waiting to explode out and wound us all over again, but I also know I won't hear it tonight. The secrets will flood out over the next few weeks, first like a trickle, soft whispers, almost too quiet to be heard, growing and building into into a roaring river of words, unstoppable, unchangeable carried along the tide of delighted whispers of malicous gossip with eyes bright and watchful, peering closely to see if any of their words hit their mark.
She is pregnant
Should be ashamed
Don't cry dear
Their words are like bullets, each one intended to maim, to draw blood, but we don't let them. We hold our heads high and any tears that are shed are done behind closed doors. We don't even cry in front of each other now. The words keep coming but the three of us band together, we form a unit tighter that I thought we could be. My mum on her good days smiles again, her eyes shining and we see a glimpse of the woman we knew before. On her bad days I make dinner while my brother tells her stories about boys from work. We each pretend not to notice her silence and we fill the void with our words.
I have a boyfriend, my brother knows, but she doesn't, not yet. Part of me thinks I don't tell her because I don't want to rub her face in my happieness, but deep down I know it's because I want to keep something for me, something outside of the broken family my dad left behind. I like having somewhere I can go where laughter doesn't sound strange, doesn't echo off the walls.
My dad still comes to visit, growing more and more distant each time. Christmas Day was the worst, less than seven weeks after he left and they decided we should all be together, one last family Christmas. We sit together, no words spoken, I play with the jagged cracks on the table, pretending not to noice how they match my fractured family. No-one reads the jokes, and my mums hat remains folded by her plate, John's hat is torn and mine has slipped from my head. Dad never pulled a cracker.
My birthday comes and my best friend confirms the news, he has a new family, the baby will be born in June. My dad has always only had one son, one daughter. That won't be the case any more. I close my eyes and pray it's not a girl, enough has already changed and I want to remain special. Then I feel ashamed and cancel my date to curl up with my brother and watch a film, settling my head on his shoulder. My little brother is taller than me now, fiercly protective; he deserves to be special too.
The summer comes and I pretend to ignore the date arriving. Robert is part of the family now, my mother welcoming my boyfriend into the fold with loving arms. There are four of us again and in a way it seems to make her happier. When he stays for dinner, she is lighter on her feet, her eyes never have to stray to the empty seat when it is filled.
I am at a birthday party when the news arrives, the interloper is born on the same day as Robert's little sisters second birthday. I hear the words and know the darkness will creep in again, that mum will break again, that the fractures just cracked open again.
Your dad called
Can you come?
It's a boy